Bill Owens established Buffalo Bill’s Brewery as the first brewpub in America since Prohibition on August 2, 1983. His book How to Build a Small Brewery (1993) opened the door to the brewpub movement and he kind of reinvented Pumpkin Ale. Owens sold Buffalo Bill’s in 1994 continuing to publish American Brewer Magazine which he sold in 2001. Owens used the proceeds from the magazine’s sale to photograph America and this journey planted the seeds for his next venture, the American Distilling Institute, and Distiller Magazine. ADI was established in 2003 as a professional membership organization and publishing house to promote the art of craft distilling. Artifacts from Buffalo Bill’s Brew Pub were acquired by the Smithsonian Institute and sit alongside Owens’ photographs previously collected by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and two National Endowment for the Arts grants. Bill’s current book is The Delco Years, a dystopian novel of life after a pandemic kills everyone but people who drink unpasteurized beer. He is also working on his memoir and a book of his collected poetry…
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Zusammenfassung auf Deutsch:
Bill Owens, den Gründer der Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Hayward, Kalifornien. Owens, bekannt für seine vielfältigen Talente als Brauer, Fotograf und Autor, gründete 1983 die erste Brauereigaststätte in Amerika nach der Prohibition und trug maßgeblich zur Wiederbelebung des Kürbisbiers bei. Nach dem Verkauf der Brauerei im Jahr 1994 widmete er sich dem Fotografieren Amerikas und gründete später das American Distilling Institute und das Distiller Magazine, um die Kunst des Craft-Destillierens zu fördern. Owens hat zahlreiche Auszeichnungen erhalten, darunter ein Guggenheim-Stipendium und zwei Stipendien des National Endowment for the Arts. Aktuell arbeitet er an seinen Memoiren und einem Buch mit gesammelten Gedichten.
Owens‘ Leidenschaft fürs Brauen begann in seiner Jugend auf dem Bauernhof, wo er erste Versuche mit der Weinherstellung unternahm. Später, während seiner Zeit im Peace Corps und als Lehrer, entwickelte er ein Interesse am Fotojournalismus, was ihn zu einer 16-jährigen Karriere bei einer Zeitung führte. Nachdem er seinen Job verlor, kehrte er zum Heimbrauen zurück und experimentierte mit verschiedenen Techniken und Geräten. Owens‘ kreative Ansätze umfassten unter anderem die Verwendung von Kürbis und Gewürzen zur Herstellung von Kürbisbier.
Owens betont die Bedeutung von Selbstbildung und Reisen für das Erlernen des Brau- und Destillierhandwerks. Er hebt hervor, dass eine erfolgreiche Destillerie heute nicht nur hervorragende Produkte herstellen, sondern auch ein einladendes Ambiente für Besucher bieten muss. Owens erklärt, dass sowohl Bier als auch Whisky Kunsthandwerke sind, die aus Rohstoffen alkoholische Getränke schaffen, und betont die magischen Aspekte dieses Prozesses. Er diskutiert die historische Entwicklung des Bierbrauens und die zunehmende Bedeutung von Erbstückgetreide und Mais für die Geschmacksvielfalt in Bier und Whisky.
In Bezug auf die Entwicklung der Craft-Brau- und -Destillationsindustrie bemerkt Owens, dass er zwei Industrien ins Rollen gebracht hat: das Craft-Brauen und später das Craft-Destillieren. Sein Ziel war es immer, funktionierende Produkte zu schaffen, anstatt Ruhm oder Reichtum anzustreben. Owens beschreibt auch, wie er das Konzept der schnellen Bierproduktion entwickelte, was für Brewpubs von Vorteil ist. Seine Methoden erlauben es, in kürzester Zeit frisches Bier zu produzieren. Abschließend erklärt Owens, dass seine ersten professionellen Biere Ales waren, obwohl die Definition damals vage war und die verwendete Hefe nicht den traditionellen Charakteristika von Ales entsprach.
Markus Raupach: Hello and welcome to another episode of our podcast, BierTalk. Today I’m very honored. I’m sitting in Aalborg in Denmark. We are just the front of whiskey tasting. And I’m sitting here together with Bill Owens. He’s a very famous person, not only in the beer world, also as a photographer, as an author, and in many other ways, the whiskey world, for example. And I’m very happy to have him here and talk about his life and his beer life, which is very interesting, as I said. So great to have you here. Maybe you introduce yourself shortly.
Bill Owens: Thank you. You start when you’re very young, maybe 14, 15, you’re on a farm. And you go to Bible school, and you learn that Jesus turned water into wine. So I go home and I say, if Jesus can do this, I can do this. So I got together with a neighbour kid, we picked some grapes, we had wash tanks in the barn. We crush up the grapes and went away for a couple of months and come back. And we look in the tank and it’s got a green mould on it. So I dip it in with a jar, I said to Keith, you drink it first. Well we couldn’t drink it. We didn’t dare. So we drained the tank, took all the musk and stuff and dug a hole and buried it and we didn’t want my father to catch me, catch us. And then we poured the wine if you want to call it that into buckets and took it out to the pasture and poured it out on the pasture. And then went back and we took the garden hose and then we’re washing out the tanks. I look at the bottom and they’re all very bright and shiny. It was a galvanized tank and the wine had eaten all the galvanized offs. It was zinc. So whatever we made was rat poison with zinc in it. So the months go by, and finally one night at supper, my father turns to me and said, Billy, there’s these big rings of dead grass in the pasture. What’s that about? And I kind of rolled my eyes and I said the flying saucers landed. So that was my first experience. Then in college, I would buy malt syrup and pour the kind of syrup into a white bucket, add yeast, stir it up and make beer and drink it. In those days as a young man, you could drink three gallons of beer in three days pretty easily. We didn’t take up any refrigerator. And years later, I had a degree in industrial arts and was in the Peace Corps and taught school and wanted to become a photojournalist. I studied journalism and got a job at a newspaper out in Livermore and I worked there for 16 years. And then finally myself and reporters get laid off and you can’t find another job. And so the months are going by and I need beer, you don’t have any money. But I was a home brewer so I started home brewing again. And for the first time there was beer clubs. So I drive across town to go to these beer club and meet these geeks. And these guys were idiots. They just didn’t have any idea of chemistry or whatever they were, they were basically using malt extract, I wanted to go all grain. And there was one little booklet published out of Portland, Oregon that talked about all grain and how to do it. As a matter of fact, I remember they would take a pan and fill it with water and barley grain and put it in the oven overnight to mash overnight. Then I was told during fermentation that him and the owner, his name is Cartwright and the owner, Tom Burns, who now is deceased, I’m sorry to say, he said they would get down on their hands and knees and pray to God that the fermentation would occur. So they made pretty, pretty raw beer. And I’m looking at this and saying, I don’t understand, the books are German and they talk about decoction, which means you have to have a vessel. You heat it, the grain is mixed with water and you heat it to 130 and wait an hour. Then you heat it to 140 and wait an hour. You heat it to 150 and you wait an hour and then you boil it off. And there’s no way could I create a vessel where I can heat, rest, heat, rest, heat, rest. So I went to, took an extension course at the University of California, Dr. Michael Lewis who changed the world. And he would go to the chalkboard, and like a professor he just starts writing at this corner all the way across. And he talked about what the English shared which was simple infusion, which was revolutionary. And the point of that, and I sat there all day to raise my hand to say, what temperature you must have? And he says, if you add the water and you add the grain and you mash in at 152, you will get starch conversion in a matter of minutes. So I went home and I knew I could learn how to mash. But we had a problem. I couldn’t, I go and look at mash tons, and they have what was called a V-wire in the bottom and there’s no way I could find V-wire. There was no internet. I could look in a phonebook. But there’s no listing for V-wire. And so I didn’t know what to do about that. But finally, and I had to almost be a spy, there was a distiller in Sacramento who had used a dairy tank that opened on the bottom. And I go there one time and talk to him and he had the bottom open, and I could take a photograph and see what he was doing. Because he didn’t have a V-wire bottom. He had taken a copper pipe with a hacksaw and made slots. And a slot is 32,000, which is the same as when you mill barley. And he just mounted that pipe there, filled it with, closed the doors, put in the foundation of water, usually come over 170, add the water at 170, it drops to 160. You add the grain, it drops to 152. Then with a wooden canoe paddle stir it up, walk away. We used to mash for about an hour, and then come back and then you turn on your valve and a little bit of trub will spit out. If you want, you can put that back. People get into crazy on recirculating the first wort. They’re wasting their time. Just throw it away, it’s only a pint. But with into sparge we just run water on top of it. We didn’t have the equipment or the time. Eventually you make a spray ball. Just spray a tiny bit of water on it to get the maximum yield. And you just, you learned then not to run the wort too fast. Because if you run it too fast, the bed will collapse. And so you learn to run the wort at the right speed and you add the water to the right speed. And when I wrote a small booklet on I just call it slip and slide. You slip the water on and you slide the wort off to the kettle. So my mash time was up high on a platform. And I could just run by gravity into my kettle and then close the lid. But also I did something that when other distillers found out what I was doing, they hated me. I used sugar. I would buy 50 pounds of sugar to bump the alcohol and showed. People who know brewing you get good mouthfeel and you’d bump your specific gravity by a good five points very cheaply. So I was a homebrewer. And when I read the instructions, they say you boil it for an hour and I look in the vessel, I say, hey, there’s nothing in here. Why do you have to boil for an hour? This is stupid, right? But pretty soon you read the books and there’s certain, it’s called a hotbreak. And there’s chemistry that happens and I would learn to boil for an hour. I bought a simple heat exchanger from New Zealand. Then for my fermentation tanks, I used dairy tanks, open dairy tanks, refrigerated the room, one dairy tank was high. So I pump into the high dairy tank for four or five days, then the yeast would drop out. I drop it into the bottom tank or I pump it to the back room which is even more refrigerator, into English grundy tanks which changed the world. You could buy these three-legged grundy tanks for $400 or $500, and that’s where I connected my pipeline. So when I came out the door we brewed three kinds of beer, lager, amber and dark. There was no definition, no books, no magazines. I remember I went to a trade show with a friend of mine who makes equipment. He says, go sit by that guy over there. I said, he’s kind of scruffy-looking. Who is he? And he says, well, that’s Michael Jackson. Just go sit by him. I got acquainted with Michael Jackson. But they’re on the other side of the fence from me. I’m in love with the process, mashing and the chemistry of it. Today, both brewing and distilling is really exciting to see the innovation of this next generation coming along and making flavourful. I just say watch out scotch distilling industry. There’s some wonderful whiskies out there that are only aged one year. But in Europe you’ve still got to do three years which is stupid. Do it like in Japan, let people do whatever they want to do. So I had the, I soon expanded I think to a fourth beer. I did do some bottling. Oh one of my creative efforts was, again I like books. I picked up a history of brewing book and there’s George Washington, the President of the United States got very wealthy after he retired from being president. And he had a still. And there’s a photograph of the still and it’s at the Smithsonian Institute still today. And there’s a photograph of it. So I took the photograph and with a pencil traced it, and I made a little coat pin. We’re ripping off George Washington. But in reading about him, he used pumpkins and gourds and squash in the mash because you got a starch, you got insides and you can convert it. So I’m going to put squashes in. I’m a gardener. I grew a pumpkin. So I grew this, oh, you go buy the special pumpkin seeds for $1. And you can grow the 300-pound pumpkin. So I grew the big pumpkin, I could pick it up. It was about 80 pounds. Take it down to the brewery, chop it up, pop it into the pizza oven, bake it, so I can get at the starches, and then during mash, I would drop the pumpkins in, stir it up. And then there was a door in the bottom and I would drop it all into buckets and get it hauled away. And the pig farmer every Monday, whenever I did the pumpkin ale, the pigs were really happy because they got a little different flavour in there. But what I realized after you finish your boil, and you add some hops, if you do your boil, cool from it, you taste it, there’s no pumpkin flavour. Pumpkin comes from spices. How do I solve this problem? Wait a minute, wait a minute. Across the street is a supermarket. In the supermarket there’s a shelf called pumpkin pie. So I take the pumpkin pie spice home to a coffee pot and perk one quart of juice, right? And so when I’m all finished with the beer and I’m ready to carbonate, you add the quart of pumpkin flavour, you stir it up and you serve pumpkin ale. So everybody went crazy when somebody came out using an additive like pumpkin. And so when I see somebody claiming they didn’t add spices to it, I know they’re lying. Because there’s no flavour. That starch will, during, you’ve cooked it and you fermented it, those flavours or volatiles, they’re gone and there’s no mouthfeel from pumpkin in beer. The only thing you have to do is adjust your grain bill so you have a pumpkin colour, which is amber. So I did that for a number of years. I had the dreams. I wanted to build the mothership, a big brewery and three or four satellites and feed them, I have the mother brewery feed training, buy grain in bulk and put that together. So I did another limited partnership, raised $300,000 on that. Then people are jealous of you and you have your lawsuits. And pretty soon you lose it all. And I always thought screw you. You could take me, kidnap me. You could take me, kidnap me, take me to Bamberg Germany drop me off and I don’t speak German. I promise you come back in a year, I’ll have a car, a girlfriend, a house and a job. I know I have that personality, I will find work. And so I just moved on with my life. And so after I finally decided to sell Buffalo Bill’s Brewery after 16 years, sold it for $92,000 and the owner was driven the business, poor management and he’s now trying to sell it for $6 million. Good luck. I don’t care, I won’t go back. He was not a good brewer. I go to the local pub where I have a huge selection of wonderful clean beers, and Buffalo Bill’s became a restaurant serving some beer. So one day I’m sitting in a coffee shop talking to a typical kid with long hair, blah, blah, blah. And he says yeah, I’m going to go into real estate. I said, you ever look in the mirror? You don’t look good. They wear a white shirt and a tie. I said, I got this idea. So I just get in my car and drive to Oakland, California, go to the city hall. It’s called DBA, doing business as. You stand in line, you pay your $20, you fill it out, and you get permission to use the word microbrewery. So, then you write off to the federal government. This is pre-internet. You write off to the federal government, you get an EIN number, which is your federal license and pay taxes. The other thing you do is you take $100, you go to the bank and you do a bank account. And by then I dreamed up the name Buffalo Bill’s Brewery. I put $100 in the bank and I had a business called Buffalo Bill’s, pardon me. I said Buffalo Bill’s brewery. I went to the city hall and got the license to be the American Distilling Institute.
Markus Raupach: Okay.
Bill Owens: You have to talk to the real estate kid. And when I came back, I had this license and I said to myself, how do you make money? You do conferences. And I knew Jörg a German at St. George, who came to America and was making eau de vie, and I had beer wash. And so I would take beer wash to Jörg and he’d make whiskey for me. And so I went to Jörg and I said, can I have a conference, big space in front of the stills? And he said, sure. So I had then to, I think I spent $400 to rent 75 chairs and a couple of tables. And then I didn’t know anybody. I contacted Forsyths to see if they would be interested. And Richard Forsyth flew from Scotland to come to my conference. I didn’t even ask him to speak. But he was smart enough to put up a sign Forsyths. So every photograph was taken, his sign is in the background. But Vendome, the other coppersmith, and America has been doing it for hundreds of years, they were already advertising in my beer magazine. And then when I switched over to the distilling magazine, I had Forsyths and Vendome. Immediately then Carl and Holstein, and now the guy from China. And I’ve yet to get a couple of the Italian steel manufacturers to come advertise with me. And so now celebrating our 20th anniversary of the American Distilling Institute, about five years ago, I said to my son, take it. It’s yours. I’ve still got to go figure out if I have to sell it to him or not, and what’s the best legal way. And so I, kind of a spokesman, I travel looking for new distilleries, new marketing ideas, and he does the daily operations. So our conference will be in August, in Las Vegas. The cover photograph for the magazine for that issue will be the master distiller at Lost Spirits in San Diego, in Las Vegas, is a woman, master distiller and she will be on the trapeze upside down pouring a shot of whiskey for the cover. And so we’ll be there and we will draw from this 86 people, 20 years ago, I’m predicting will draw about 2500 people. Most important is we’ll have about 200 vendors. So if you’re looking to do a label bottles, Cooper’s still manufacture, heat exchangers, whatever, all those vendors are there and consultants. And then one afternoon, you can walk by and pick up all the literature and see who you want to do business with. But those are the people that pay our bills because we drive the next generation to them. Eric, my son has done a wonderful website. So you can go to the website and find a huge amount of information that we just give away. And so people are now inspired. When I first, I’ve driven America three times visiting distilleries. Once I drove across, just to get people to support HR 777, which is a federal thing to legalize brew pubs. Because in a lot of states brewpubs were illegal. And we finally got that law changed to allow brewpubs to be legal. And what’s really wonderful about California though, when the law changed, it says you can serve, we’ll give you this beer license and you can serve the beer, regardless of the source, means you can brew it yourself. And that’s what changed the law. You didn’t have to put all that other language in there regardless of the source. So you can buy all the beer. There are German pubs in America bringing nothing but German beers in. So now, when I do a small road trip, this year, Eric and I have done Dallas and Seattle, and I go to visit people I’ve known over the years. Now I walk in and it’s a 32-plate column. Big 2000-gallon fermentation tanks. And if you’re really hip you can ferment on Monday and distil on Friday. Five-day beer is real common, real clean. And the major difference from where I come from and in a world is all American beers are based on corn. And I’m not a corn person. I’m a barley person. Barley has more mouthfeel. But corn is our basic starch. So the trouble with the corn is you got to cook it and then use enzymes as you cook it as it goes up. Then as it starts to cool, you have to use a second set of enzymes to get your starch conversion. And so that’s a big difference. So I just, people with the laws just require you have 51% corn make the other 49% barley. But now the rye has arrived. And I’m amazed. At first I couldn’t even tell the difference between a rye and a bourbon and whatever. Now, these guys have learned how to, with enzymes, convert rye and make some rye whiskies that are fabulous. But mostly you do have to have the enzymes from barley to make that conversion so that, I actually want to do a map of the five rye states, North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, like that, and just visit rye distilleries, because that’s here to stay. And the other project I’m working on is the most difficult whiskey trail in the world. I have that website. It’s 3000 miles in Alaska and only 12 distilleries. And if you complete the trip, we have to set up with the website. So you post the photograph that you’ve been in, you will receive a big belt buckle like the cowboys have that has a map of Alaska on it. So we’re about ready to get that launched again. But last year, we tried to get it out and we got screwed over by the website from China. No, pardon me, India.
Markus Raupach: India.
Bill Owens: Yeah. So we lost a lot of time on that. But the idea to have these distilleries that are a thousand miles apart, and you want to go there, and I just know that it’ll be two Germans on their bicycles, right? That’ll do it. Because I’ve hitchhiked all over Europe and the best travellers in the world are the Germans. I don’t care what remote village in the Himalayas, the only people I’ve ever met were German hitching backpackers and I’ve done a lot of backpacking. So that’s about the back history of how the whole Renaissance came about. Now there’s 9000 brewpubs and microbreweries in America. So I went back to the big AHA homebrewing convention in Denver, and I walk in and it’s all tattoos, Ziggy top beards and nose rings. There’s not my crowd anymore. I walk into the distilling thing and we got aeroplane pilots, and a lot of women involved, a whole level of sophistication to be in the whiskey business because you have to make a big capital investment for a long time. And you can’t be, where breweries, you could put together a brewery for nothing. To do a distillery, you can’t find any used equipment at all. All the used dairy tanks are all gone. And so for you to go the manufacturer, I just recently bought a still from, still drag it out of Missouri, no in Florida, for $18,000. Five plates, 50 gallons, and I bought it and had the steam boiler put on it, which you just plug into the wall. So I don’t have to get any kind of permits to run a small boiler on 50 gallons. It’s a beautiful still from China. We built the shed for it and I don’t have any time.
Markus Raupach: Yes, you’re travelling a lot. So and that was a very quick ride through your history.
Bill Owens: Yes.
Markus Raupach: Maybe let’s highlight some points. So you mentioned you started in professional brewing when you founded the Buffalo Bill’s Brewery. This was in 83, as far as I know. How did that come? So how did it, did it really get professional? How did you get the equipment? How did you get the permission for that? How did you get the name?
Bill Owens: You use self-education. You just buy books and magazines and you read them and you keep them and you look back and you put together the ideas. But also the best way to learn the industry is to travel. And I tell people if you’re going to build a distillery, go to not to two distilleries, go to five. Because today, if you build a distillery, you better build a fabulous tasting room because you’re going to make 40 to 50% of your profit off of the people who walk through the door. And now more are becoming restaurants and have tacos or whatever you want, lots of pizza places. Because to go into the bottle, we can bottle, you can buy bottle machines. You can do gravity-feeding 5000 bottles pretty easily in a week, right? Without automation, just by gravity feed. But to go then to wholesale and retail, that’s the black box, because that’s controlled by major corporations and businesses. And they have a pipeline and they keep that pipeline fed. And you come along and you only have 200 bottles, you better find a nice bar that specializes in eau de vie or something to sell your product. But that’s changing now too, because we’re working really hard on allowing to get FedEx to deliver a bottle of whiskey. So I can buy whiskey from Japan. And that will happen eventually. So you can make a business doing mail order, have your customer base, and then do some local distribution to supermarkets and maybe a wholesaler to a bar in Chicago that loves whiskey, he wants every bottle ever made. You can have one of your bottles be there. And here in Denmark, Denmark’s whiskey crazy. There’s lots of lots of whiskey bars or lots of whiskies and a lot of interest in it. It’s fun to see in society. Whiskey has the magic more than, and gin has gone through the Renaissance. But to be a gin distiller it’s pretty easy. You just buy a neutral grain spirits and you could just bottle it, or you buy neutral grain spirits and do it the right way and redistill it and pick the herbs yourself and really take some care into manufacturing delicious gins.
Markus Raupach: What would you say if I asked you what is the difference between beer and whiskey?
Bill Owens: All whiskies are made from beer. The difference, of course, is I like to drink the barley wine, eight, nine per cent beer. I will sip a single shot of whiskey. But usually, I’ll do whiskey with a little bit of water and a little bit of ice, but I’m only going to do one ounce. I can’t, you can’t do five ounces of whiskey and you’re just going for that wonderful flavour. So I think that’s. But both of them require today is the craft. Because you’re starting with raw materials and you’re creating an alcoholic beverage. It’s truly magic. And you wonder about when you say oh, the Egyptians made the first beer, I say, baloney. They didn’t know how to boil, they didn’t have hops. The first beers were the monks who wrote down what they did, and they found out about hops, even flavoured stabilizing beer. That’s probably the 14th century is when real beer came out of Germany or wherever it came from, from the Europe here. And so it’s evolved a long way. In America, to make beer cheaper, to manufacture, they use rice and corn adjuncts just for flavor. They don’t use 100% barley. Barley is harder to grow, it has to grow in a northern climate. Now, believe it or not, they found a university in Michigan, they dug up a time capsule and found a jar of 100-year-old barley grain. So they know not to plan it locally because of the drift of the pollens of other plants. So they took it out to an island. And so the first patch is about as big as your table in your kitchen. And then next year, it’ll be twice as big. And eventually they’ll have real heritage grain because all the grains today had been modified by agriculture and the Cheerios and toast, Wheaties and everything watch. High yield, low costs, and the flavor profile in most of those things has long disappeared. So we are putting flavour back into our beers by the number of people heritage corn now, usually is number five. But guys are making whiskey from Indian corn, blue corn, popcorn, and really trying to get some flavours out of that. And it’s beginning to work because you will get if you use heritage corn from Peru, you know it’s going to be different. And so that’s really fun to see people figure that out. And I know two farmers growing corn in Mexico, different soil, different climate. That’s where corn really came from was the Incas. So it’s really fun to see the industry evolving.
Markus Raupach: And you were, in the first wave let’s say of the craft brewing in the US, would you say the craft distilling started maybe 20 years later or 30 years later? Or was the same, similarly thing?
Bill Owens: Yes, I had Buffalo Bill’s for 16 years. About three or four years later that I had been publishing some magazines and eventually got rid of the magazines. And did the American Distilling Institute. So in reality, I’ve kicked off two industries. But I never got really famous. I probably, I might be known, but I never made the money. I don’t think that was my purpose. My purpose was to make something to work. And that’s what’s fun is to figure out the timeline and how do I make a product that I can sell. And there’s nothing more exciting than to be on a boat here in Denmark with other whiskey geeks, right? And talk about everything that’s happening in the industry. And so it’s a major Renaissance. I just kept saying, I wonder if there’s a young person in China somewhere dreaming, usually about girls, but how to make beer or how do I make whiskey. And now on the internet, you can find all that information. But you can’t find the equipment. You’ve got to be able to find used equipment to put things together. Otherwise, you’re priced out of your range. And I wrote a book called The Nano Brewery, pardon me, The Nano Distillery, and I list 50 items, where to buy all 50 items. And if you totalled it up you can build a distillery for $46,000. That’s every piece of equipment from the scales to measuring or proof. Still from China. There’s only one problem with that $46,000. You need three times the amount of money for the building. You’ve got to go into the building, jackhammer out the floors, put in drains, pull electrical wires, paint, hire the architect if necessary, and put together a business. And then after you get the business open, you need some money to survive. So you can’t just say, oh, I got $46,000, I’m going to buy this equipment. You got a major problem on location, location, location, how many cars can fit into your parking lot, how many seats in your bar and do your spreadsheets and try to figure out will this be profitable. I just say, I’m just going to do it. I want to be a farm distiller, and there’s just a little sign on a tree that says whiskey. And you don’t even have to advertise. And when you go there, there’s some picnic tables where people sit outside, and you have a little pizza oven. And three or four days a year, you serve pizza. And you do floor malting, which I’m totally in love with, to mulch your own. I wouldn’t want to be able to grow. I don’t have, you can’t afford the land to grow your own, you have to contract that. That’s another man’s, another person’s job. But that’s the future is the farm distillery. But really the future is the marriage of the brewery distillery. Because when you brew beer, you’re 90% of the way there to whiskey. Because your beer, your wort can drop into the fermentation tank, probably you have to have hops and boiling in the fermentation tank. Or for whiskey just come right off the mash tun and ferment. Now some people will boil it, some people will even put hops in it. But you could run straight into the fermentation tank and you got overnight fermentation. And three days of flocculation you could rack and so you can mash on Monday and distil on Friday pretty easily.
Markus Raupach: And you also wrote a similar book on brewing. So few, what is that about?
Bill Owens: Draft beer in 10 days. So I had the brewpub in mind. I said, here’s how you could do a beer fast. You do this, this and this and you could, we had a distillery in San Francisco, they used to do a three-day beer. And it’s fresh and it was, they were just, what’s the word we used, shocked the beer by freezing it. Day three, the fermentation is over and you just turn the regulator down until the beer is really cool. That yeast will drop out and you just run the tap right to the bar or into a barrel. And they did great beer in three days. It could be done because the type of hops. I don’t know what the temperature of their fermentation. I don’t think they did hot fermentations. We stay away from hot fermentations. Rum guys can have that industry. That’s 90 degrees. I always fermented at 70. The Germans are all 50. It takes two weeks and the first German guy in that, says oh, you can’t drink our beer for 18 months. Yes, you can’t do it. It’s not ready. It’s not right, right? Well he didn’t last.
Markus Raupach: And when you started to do professional beers, it was ales or was it lagers?
Bill Owens: The definition was very vague because again, when you look at the ale books, all the yeast floats on the top. We were getting by on Red Star yeast at the supermarket, cutting the packets open, and when we fermented it flocculated to the bottom. So we’re not making that traditional warm ale at all. But we called it ale. Maybe because I was fermenting at 70 and not in 50. But who knows. It was just beer in my eyes.
Markus Raupach: Okay.
Bill Owens: Because the English ales have that top. As a matter of fact, a similar fermentation tanks have a place where you can pull the yeast off the top. Nobody in America messed with that. But most of them went to conical tanks and with temperature controls and let the yeast fall to the bottom, and pull the yeast off the bottom. I never liked that. I liked the open fermenters with a shallow pan bottom. And I repitched also for generations. People get paranoid that yeast will be infected, but I never had a problem. And I’ve known breweries who for years and years the same yeast strain and some of them will have a microscope to take a look. But in the beer business today over sanitation. They sanitize everything as if they’re in a operational room at a hospital. If you travel to Belgium, you’ll soon realize most of the distilleries that are embarrassingly dirty and they have coolships there with fermentation depending on when spiders or dust flowing in the front door. I’m not going to do that one. But I have built a coolship. The coolships work with cool down, but then I pitched my yeasts. I’m not going to mess with any wild yeast. It’s too scary. It’s a business. I want to do eight o’clock in the morning I strike and at five o’clock I want to go home because if you make any mistakes, you’re going to be there that evening. I don’t want to work ten hours. So you learn to regulate your business, regulate your life and pretty soon you’re able to come in on Saturday for a couple hours and not go to the brewery on Sunday. Stay away. But after 10 or 12 years, you burn it out because other people shooting by you who are better financed, better ideas and the thing that always embarrassed me was I have my instructions written down on a wall. Eight o’clock, push here. Twelve minutes to fill the tank, push here the buttons on a darkroom timer, it counts backwards. So I had the process down. So I teach a young person, they didn’t have to be a homebrewer, they just wanted to learn how to brew. And they follow my instructions, and I say, well, you watch me five times. So you come in on Monday, here’s what I’m going to do. You’ve got to be here all day. But we do that five times. And then I watch you two times, and on the eighth time I’m out of the room and let you brew on your own. And so I’ve taught a number of people how to brew. And every once a while somebody would come along who could brew better than me. And so wait a minute, my recipe, my water, my grain, my equipment, and you’re doing a better job than me. That’s magic. But it’s like being a chef, you’ve seen people who could turn the egg over perfectly. I can’t always get that egg exactly right or whatever. But there’s that magic of people that have real talent in cooking and beverages and whatever. So I’m not A or B, I’m just like in college, maybe a C plus. But I have other, I write and produce books and spreading Johnny Appleseed, spreading the gospel.
Markus Raupach: And that’s a good thing. You just told me that you’re writing a book, or you wrote a book at the moment. And it’s a novel, but beer plays some role. So maybe the end of the podcast you tell us a little bit about that. And then we put a link in the show notes so people can maybe also read your novel.
Bill Owens: Yes, it’s called The Delco Years, DelcoYears.com. It’s up on the web. And I’ve had this idea for about 20 or 30 years, 20 years, at least, about a virus killing people, but the antidote is beer. And so funny, when I got ready to do the book, I knew what to do. I take a Christian evangelical, Pentecostal, he wants to Jesus to come to take 177,000 to heaven. So he’s going to go to Russia to buy the virus and pick up a Russian bride at the same time. So he buys the virus on a fake credit card, because if you want a fake credit card, you go on the internet and you can buy one. He flies to Russia, he buys the virus, and the virus is called Nofi. I name it after the guy’s wife’s dog, right? And the Nofi virus, at Boston International, he releases it, drops the bottle out of his fanny pack. The virus gets into the air conditioning system to all the international flights, travels the world and the virus is a flesh-eating virus. So as soon as it attacks you, your arm starts to dissolve and you can be totally a pile o bones in two hours, or maybe two months. Because if you got a good antidote system, you will live longer. So the virus is spreading. But he was really mad to drop the bottle. He wanted to die at Disneyland. He wanted to poison people at Disneyland because they were hedonists. But he still goes down to Disneyland. And so the last image of him in the book is he’s at the teacup ride, going around in a circle. But he doesn’t know when he spreads this virus that the people who drink unpasteurized beer have the antidote. So there’s all of us survivors. So I just look at all the people in my bar, Buffalo Bill’s, and I just photograph them all. And they all become characters in my novel. So I send their photographs to Italy to have the drawing made of them. And so I have this gathering of people and I say, how in the hell am I going to govern people? The rest of the people are dead. We have cars. The car battery’s good for five years, hence the Delco battery. So we got five years before the real end comes, before we can eat out of a supermarket for five years easily. That food is fresh. And so I poopoo all the people that are survivalists. Oh I’m going to go out in the woods and kill animals and eat and live and build my log cabin. Forget that. We just move into suburbia, take over a house, but you break into a house, there’s nothing to steal of any value. The only thing of value is a propane tank and maybe the odd weapon. But what are you going to shoot? Who’s going to go out and shoot and knows how to skin and age meat? So we take over, go back to Livermore, where I’m from, and we take over a winery and we have now 23 million bottles of wine to barter. So my first barter is about 20 miles away to where there’s sugar beets to get sugar. And then my other barter is to the California coast to get salt. You need salt and sugar to preserve and to cook. And then you start trading for eggs. And you set up a community where I do a map and nine zones where all the people live. I say, what kind of law? You’ve got to have government. And so I started doing my research on government and I ended up using the Vikings all thing government from the 12th century, which gave individual rights to people. And I write up a constitution. Everybody has to sign the paper that they will be a good citizen. And banishment in my book, if you accidentally hit somebody with your car, you will be banished. And we just take you down to Bakersfield 200 miles away and drop you off. You cannot be in our community that is organized and has food. But the real struggle in a book and it’s really fun to write about is you have to have a weekly flea market or garage sale so you can barter with other communities. And people can get together to gossip, and meet women and have a community. But people today have no skills. I don’t know anybody who can drive a tractor. I think I could turn the tractor on. If it’s got a clutch, I could drive a tractor. I’ve driven tractors, but not the modern one. I don’t know anybody who would know the season, the year to plant wheat. And most of us have a raised garden bed. That’s good for two tomato plants. But to grow your own food it’s just simply out of the question. You couldn’t do it. You would starve. You’d have to go to steal. But you want to set your community up so you have values and barter back and forth. And one thing I liked about the Viking government is if you have your land and your indentured people who eventually become free, if you don’t like the person you’re working with, you can move to another farm. So you have to treat your people well. So it’s really about, what in the book at the end, we have a community dance where people can get together and have music and dance. But it has to be at the fairgrounds where you have an old museum with a tractor in it. So the last thing in the book, our electricity is still running because we’re very near to a dam. But I know the back of my mind, oh, we have the windmills, we have lots of windmills very near Livermore. And I know that windmills need maintenance. And after five years, half of them will be broken down. You have to maintain them. So we can tap the windmill. But I’m thinking to myself for the long run, for the communities to survive you need energy, you need electricity. So I’m looking in one of the books near Livermore was the Carnegie brickworks. And Carnegie built all these libraries in America, but they had to have a kiln and fire bricks, and near the Carnegie brickworks. And I found it looking on the internet was a coal mine. Oh, what luck to have a coal mine. And then you find the old photograph of the coal mine. So now I have to have a community meeting of all the elders running the community and say, at the museum is a steam boiler. And we can generate electricity off the generator off the steam boiler. Because electricity is going to go away in a couple of years. We have to start mining coal, getting reserves of it to fire our boilers to generate electricity for certain industries. People can be at home with no electricity. Someone can and some can’t. So we have a meeting of all the elders of the community and nobody wants to get involved in mining coal. It’s too hard work. Coal mining is not fun. So we have a real social dilemma of sending back people, back to the coal mine to do the dirtiest hardest work in the world. So that’s kind of the end of the book, having a meeting about the coal, how to save the world. But I do have drawings in the book of the virus going into the person’s stomach and the yeast cells eating the viruses. And I got that out of a scientific magazine and some big drawing. I just had my artists change it around so I have all these viruses eating other viruses. My son says to me, Dad, yeast cells can’t eat viruses. So there’s a couple lies in the book. That’s one of them.
Markus Raupach: But it’s a novel and I think people will be curious to read it. So we will put the link in the show notes. And so it’s perfect that you have the big circle again. So you started with beer and you have another beer. So thanks a lot for your time. Thanks a lot for this information.
Bill Owens: Let’s go drink some beer right now.
Markus Raupach: Yes, let’s go drink some beer. And also you listeners do the same, have some beers and maybe read the novel and yes.
Bill Owens: Yes, thank you very much.
BierTalk – Der Podcast rund ums Bier. Alle Folgen unter www.biertalk.de